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Former UK prime minister calls for second Brexit referendum

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on the Labour party leadership to back his call for a second referendum on whether Britain was still willing to leave the European Union, arguing that the country’s exit from the bloc was “by no means a foregone conclusion.”

Blair made the comment in an interview with German newspaper Die Welt published on Thursday, saying that British citizens had the right to “rethink the decision,” now that the potential impact of Brexit is clearer than it was prior to the vote in June last year.

The former premier said ordinary Labour voters’ problems would not be resolved by Brexit as those circumstances before the vote had changed, warning that the energies of the British government were totally absorbed by Brexit talks at the expense of the health service, and other Labour priorities.

Blair also called on Europe to consider the possibility that London could change its mind about leaving the bloc, expressing alarm about “Brexit fatigue” and a “dangerous fatalism” emerging across the continent.

“There is a lack of understanding of how harmful Brexit is for Europe too,” Blair told the German paper, adding that Europeans should negotiate “openly” in case “Britons change their minds” about Brexit.

The former prime minister warned that Britain, once outside the European Union, would inevitably seek to justify its departure and encourage other members of the 28-member bloc to follow in its footsteps.

“When there are tensions between EU members, [Britain] will behave differently than it did when it was a member. This will not be good for Europe,” he said.

“The fears that motivated Britain to vote for Brexit are not limited to the UK,” Blair added. “That’s why it would be prudent to negotiate rationally and with stronger leadership; to use Brexit to deal with the root causes of these fears, which are just as prevalent on the Continent … If we don’t address these, populism will only keep growing.”

At a meeting in Brussels last month, members of the bloc said there has been enough progress on key issues. The next phase will involve discussions over future relations and trade ties between the UK and the EU.

Negotiations on the transition period are scheduled to resume in mid January but talks on trade will not begin until March as EU members need more clarity on the UK’s post-Brexit plans.

British Prime Minister Theresa May signed the divorce deal with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on December 8 after months of negotiations. The deal covers Britain's exit bill, the future of the Irish border and the rights of EU expatriates in the UK.

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